Cubs hang on to beat Reds 8-7 after Kimbrel, bullpen nearly ruin a 7-run lead
CINCINNATI — Jon Lester had to wait until the Chicago Cubs’ fourth game to make his 2020 debut.
A 1-hour, 47-minute rain delay before Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds wasn’t going to make Lester more restless.
But after throwing five no-hit innings, Lester and his teammates squirmed as nearly all of a seven-run lead evaporated before center fielder Albert Almora Jr. caught Joey Votto’s bases-loaded line drive to secure an 8-7 victory.
The Cubs bullpen walked eight, hit three batters and hurled two wild pitches.
Manager David Ross was forced to pull closer Craig Kimbrel after the seven-time All-Star walked four, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch after inheriting an 8-5 lead entering the ninth.
Kimbrel threw only 13 of 34 pitches for strikes, forcing Ross to opt for Jeremy Jeffress.
Jeffress struck out Phillip Ervin and retired Votto to secure the win.
Lester, 36, who has made four opening-day starts in his six seasons with the Cubs, might have pitched deeper despite the humidity had it not been for two errors — including one charged to him when he let a grounder by Ervin get past him with two out in the third. Third baseman David Bote committed the other error to start the fourth, and Lester plunked No. 9 hitter Curt Casali with two out in the fifth.
Nevertheless, Lester was efficient enough in his first start while extending the success of the rotation in the Cubs’ three wins. Kyle Hendricks — who was named National League Player of the Week after his shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday — Tyler Chatwood and Lester have allowed one run in 20 innings.
And the anticipation is that Lester will provide more innings as his arm gets stronger.
Lester had only one strikeout, but it occurred on a perfectly located 87 mph sinker on the low outside corner to fool Aristides Aquino for the second out of the fourth.
Lester was the beneficiary of a tweaked lineup that scored first for the fourth consecutive time to start the season — the Cubs’ longest such stretch at the start of a season since the 1945 NL champions took the first lead in their first nine games.
Anthony Rizzo continued to dominate the Reds as he hit his third home run of the season and scored three times. Rizzo has hit 28 career home runs against the Reds — his most against any opponent.
Rizzo drew a walk and scored during the Cubs’ four-run first against Wade Miley, and he was hit by a pitch and scored on a two-run double by Javier Baez in the second.
This marked the 40th time in Rizzo’s career that he drew a walk and was hit by a pitch in the same game. That’s second to Shin-Shoo Choo (41) among active major-leaguers.
Right fielder Steven Souza Jr. and Bote took advantage of their first starts. Souza hit an RBI double and scored on Bote’s single to cap the four-run first. Bote also knocked in an important insurance run in the seventh by doubling in Willson Contreras.
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